- Published: 09 March 2009
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Lori Ferguson, age 8, of Winston Salem, North Carolina, for her question:
Why do fawns have spots?
White tailed deer live in the leafy woods around Winston Salem. You may not see them very often because they are shy and try to keep out of sight. In summer, they wear rusty brown coats. During the day, they stand quietly chewing among the shadowy boughs. You may not notice them hiding there. But you may catch a glimpse of a spotted fawn, crouching on the ground among the low bushes. When the baby deer gets to be four months old, his speckled white spots will begin to fade away.
In olden times, many wild animals prowled through thick forests in the South¬land. Mountain lions hunted the white tailed deer. Lynxes and bobcats hunted their baby fawns. The grown up deer escaped because they could run faster and farther than their hungry enemies. They could also leap over bushes eight feet high and across streams 20 feet wide. But the baby fawns had to toddle around on their weak little legs. So the mother deer taught them to hide and their spotted coats helped them to blend in with the scenery.
When we walk in the woods, our eyes see soft earthy browns and lovely leafy greens. But bears and pumas cannot see colors. Neither can lynxes, bobcats or any other animals that go after the deer. They see the scenery in black and white and tones of grey. Our eyes see a baby fawn's bright reddish brown coat, all speckled with bright white spots. But the animals in the woods see only a speckled pattern of greys.
And this pattern happens to match the patches of sunshine and shadow. In summer time, the sunbeams poke their bright fingers between the leaves and speckle the shadows with bright spots. When hungry animals prowl around, the spotted fawn looks like part of the speckled woodsy scenery.
Grown up deer have a strong musky scent that their enemies can smell. But a baby fawn has no odor. So his hungry enemies usually pass right by without seeing him or smelling him. That is, if the scared little fawn stays perfectly still. The white tailed mother may have two or even three baby fawns to tend. But she can leave her spotted darlings safely hidden while she goes to find food for herself. Every four hours or so, she comes back to nuzzle them tenderly and feed them on mother's milk.
Most of the pumas and other deer hunting animals have gone. Most of the thick, crowded forests also have gone from the Southland. The deer are happier and safer among the thin woods and scattered trees. But they still take care of themselves as they always did. The grown ups hide during the day, always ready to race away from trouble. The spotted fawns still crouch under the bushes to blend with the speckled scenery.
There are more than 100 different members of the deer family. Most of the mothers have only one fawn each summer. After about four months, they give up mother's milk and start munching the greenery. Their frisky legs are long and strong enough for running. Then most farms lose their white spots. However, several members of the deer family keep their spots all their lives. The handsome grown ups also wear brown coats with white speckles.